Protection Denied: Condoms Under Lock and Key at CVS

Imagine being a teenage kid
getting ready to go on a date with someone you’re pretty sure is going
to have sex with you that night.  Now, I want you to imagine being
a real teenage kid.  Not your adult reimagining of yourself as
smarter and more mature than you were.  Not a teenage kid like
the kind you see on TV–preternaturally self-confident and aware. 
Real teenage kids.  Probably already full of butterflies at the
very thought of sex (not that this stops the 46% of 15-19 year
olds that are sexually active)
and already focused on minimizing the number of nosy adults who know
about it.  But, being a good, responsible kid, you do make an effort
to use protection.  You roll down to the closest drug store–nowadays,
most likely a CVS–and discover, to your horror, that the condoms are
locked up in a cabinet, and you can only get them by fetching a salesperson
and asking for them. 

Now remember, you’re a real
teenager here, not a superhuman one like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 
You’re pumped full of hormones, most of your interactions with adults
involve them condescending to you or telling you what to do, and you’re
not thinking clearly.  It starts to seem impossible to you that
you could calmly fetch a clerk and have them unlock the cabinet. 
Your initial plan was to grab the condoms and a couple of magazines
and hustle out there whistling tunelessly, so that no one stared at
you like you’re about to have sex and they’re going to figure out
all the details by staring.  But now what do you do?  What
if the clerk laughs at you?  What if they act like they’re too
busy to help you?  What if they ask for ID? 

Oh crap, what if it’s
illegal to buy condoms?
  Don’t laugh–remember, you’re
a teenager hopped up on hormones, not a boring adult who knows what
the law actually is.  Teenagers are used to having their access
to all sorts of things restricted by law, schools, and parental authority. 
Every time you turn around, someone’s shoving a form in your face
to get parental permission or simply telling you no.  And it’s
not like anyone’s going out of their way to get condoms to high school
kids, so you begin to worry that maybe you have to be 18 to buy condoms. 
Why else would they put them in a cabinet? 

Now, if you’re being honest
about what it was like, at least for most of you, to be teenagers, you
know what happens next.  Out of fear and shame, you slink out of
the CVS and go on your date without carrying protection.  Which
is exactly why there’s
calls for more research and discussion of withdrawal as a contraceptive
Sort of.)  Unfortunately, this situation is an all-too-likely
danger, which is why the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) has started a petition
to ask CVS to put its condoms on the regular shelves instead of locking
them in cabinets.

Your panicked teenager may
think that the condoms, like cigarettes, are locked up because there’s
restrictions on their sales, but that’s not the reality.  CVS,
along with other drugstore and grocery stores, locks up condoms as an
anti-theft measure.  Unsurprisingly, this means that people who
live in lower-income neighborhoods are more likely to face a locked
cabinet when they go to CVS to buy condoms, as
a report from Change To Win discovered.

    CVS’s anti-theft measures
    signal distrust of people of color. At hundreds of stores across the
    country in communities of color, CVS displays condoms in locked cabinets
    that require customers to summon CVS staff to unlock them and monitor
    customers while making their selections.  

Right now, it’s very fashionable,
especially in the "common ground" discourse, to claim that women
living in poverty are more likely to abort than women who aren’t because
they can’t afford to have children.  That may be so, but let’s
face it–the fact that they have all these obstacles to access to pregnancy
prevention is why they’re more likely to find themselves facing an
unintended pregnancy.  

In addition to prejudices about
shoplifting, I’d suggest that another reason that condoms get locked
up in certain neighborhoods goes back to the tendency of condoms to
be marketed, at least in the U.S., as luxury items like fancy liquor
or cigarettes are marketed.  It’s not something that most of
us think about much, but my recent travels in Europe reminded me of how
unnecessary this marketing strategy is.  How so?  Well, in
England at least, the bathroom condom machine is both ubiquitous and
well-stocked with name brand condoms like Durex.  We even stayed
for a time at a "family" resort on the coast, the sort of place
where you expect cheap stuffed animals and rickety amusement park rides,
but not condom machines.  But sure enough, well-stocked, decent
condom machines were in every bathroom even there.  

But in the U.S., the bathroom
condom machine is the province of sleaziness.  If you can even
find one in adult places like bars, it’s probably stocked with brand
Ribbed For Her Pleasure, something that will make even brand-unconscious
adults wary.  With those associations, good luck finding condom
machines, especially with well-known brands, in places where people
can actually use them.  This desire to feed luxury associations
to brands like Trojan or Durex only encourages the practice of locking
them up in cabinets in lower-income neighborhoods. 

And while I’d wish that CVS
would unlock the condoms as a public service, I know that’s not going
to fly when they’re awash in shoplifting paranoia.  Instead,
I’ll appeal to their desire to make more money.  Think of all
the condom sales they lose because people, especially young people,
come in, see the condoms are locked up, and leave rather than risk the
embarrassment of telling some clerk you’ve never met before, "Yeah,
no, not the Magnum, the regular size is just fine." Plus, if you don’t
lock up the condoms, you encourage people to buy companion items like
sodas and magazines to deflect attention from the main reason they came
to the store.

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  • invalid-0

    Maybe it is back to the future.

    I recall the days when condoms were only sold by pharmacies and they were kept under the counter or in a drawer but certainly out of public view. Probably the same with spermicides.

    I am not sure why but there seems to a stigma with using a condom. You hear women say openly they take the pill but rarely do you hear a couple say they use condoms. Curious but of course millions are sold.

    • invalid-0

      I am not sure there is a stigma, but using it can associate with an uneasy feeling with some people.

  • invalid-0

    I’ll have to disagree with you on the first part of this one. I worked a Walmart in a primarily white suburban setting and condom theft was a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence usually done by the awkward teens you describe in you article. It’s sad that places like CVS have decided to lock condoms away from people, but it’s not just because of paranoia. Condom theft is a daily thing in some areas and can rack up hundreds if not thousands of dollars in lost sales for the business. In these economically challenging times if a store needs to lock away condoms to stop shrink then that’s what they have to do.

    • invalid-0

      I will get the big bag and I will jostle there everything, that can be useful when necessary, anywhere and to everybody: aspirin, scissors, an adhesive plaster, threads with a needle, plastic glasses, some packs of cigarettes, a screw-driver, condoms, the spelling dictionary, dozen two handles and pencils, a toy, a small lamp, a set of master keys, a brush for footwear. Further to continue?

  • invalid-0

    should find their local Planned Parenthood, or look to other social service agencies in their area if they are unable to purchase them from a pharmacy for any reason. Often times, the condoms are free or MUCH cheaper than they would have been at a pharmacy anyway. AND they usually won’t let you out of the door without taking a handful – quite the opposite of having them locked away. Maybe you can even have a conversation about correct use? (Just dreaming…)

    It’s not the most convenient, and I agree that condoms should be widely available and accessible in stores, but if we can’t get for-profit businesses on board, it’s far more important that everyone at least know where they can get condoms cheaply and without judgment.

  • invalid-0

    Why do I as an adult have to humiliate myself because the government can’t solve the problem of how to keeping individuals between 15-19 from getting hot and bothered.

    So I’m suppose to go into CVS or my husband and ask someone for Magnums Lubricated a box of 4 or more!?!?!

    All this to keep mommy’s little babies in line and the rest of us have to suffer!!!

    You people have to get over it and face the facts that

    1.This has been going on since the beginning of time and it’s not going to end as long as the puberty continues to happen a normal process and hard to fight!

    2.The author and the rest of you are such Hypocrites acting as if you didn’t Do the Do by the age of 19 for Goods sake.

    3.What is wrong with having sex as long as you use a CONDOM hello!!!!

    4.Want to know the real reason why your kids are having sex, it’s because they are using it to escape just like drugs. What are they escaping from, maybe you!

    5.You know when you tell people not to do something and they do it even more, well if you stuck up, closed minded uptight, religious fanatics, dysfunctional, in denial parents would not view sex as TABOO but instead explain it to be a natural process and that the human body is beautiful work of art no matter what size shape of color. Well maybe curiosities would calm.

    6.Or mothers should celebrate their daughters instead of critiquing their bodies and quite reminding them of some ridiculous vow that they have to uphold to the family like catching the right husband and how their uterus plays such an important role for the families legacy.

    How about their Careers, Education, Liberation, etc etc..

    The nation is causing all this mess themselves: Modeling shows, movies, commercials.

    ** What even funnier some of you claim to be high school sweethearts. I’m suppose to believe you didn’t do anything but go to the movies and hug. Get over yourselves.

    Oh well looks like you have a real mess to clean up!! Ha

    As for me I am staying child-free and loving every free minute of it!

    Thank God for CONDOMS:) :)

  • amanda-marcotte

    And I agree, but alas, that often takes the foresight and time to get the condoms during the daylight hours when Planned Parenthood is open.  I can’t be the only one who, at 8PM, was like, "Ah crap, condoms," and had to go to the store instead.

  • invalid-0

    Who are you ranting against? Or are you ranting because you like the sound of your own voice? Thankfully, you are staying child free.

  • invalid-0

    did you even READ the article?????

  • invalid-0

    Yes what a rant. I picked up that she uses Magnums. Obviously she is boasting about a big cock.

  • invalid-0

    “The condoms are locked up in a cabinet, and you can only get them by fetching a salesperson and asking for them. ”

    This is not for teens. We should lock cigarettes, but not condoms.

    • invalid-0

      Condoms should no be locked up!! What the hell?

  • invalid-0

    In our home we strive to be very open about sex, safe sex, with all of our children. We even went so far as to have condoms on hand for the kids. We took the girls to the GYN by age 14…We offered birth control of every type, shape and form. We encourage questions, we informed, never humiliated the kids..We ALWAYS knew where out children were going, who they were going with and what time they were expected to be home. We knew their friends, friends parents…and all their phone numbers…We trusted our children and gave them the respect they deserved..and we got the same in return. We raised the first 4 of our children to adulthood with little difficulty…and # 5…well we are soon to be Grandparents..Our daughter is 16…and even with condoms available…on birth control…open discussion on safe sex…we still failed…I am not sure that unlocking the condoms is going to make the difference…but locking them up sure makes things even more difficult for our kids when life in general is hard enough. We though that what we did was making a difference…Teens and most adults are sexual creatures and we all make mistakes..

  • invalid-0

    … just keep the condoms clearly visible somewhere near the check-out/register area. Then the kids can see them, and the cashiers can see that the kids aren’t stealing them. If the kid is particularly shy (as many would be), they can just wait until nobody’s near the checkout stand to ask for them … and the magazines and candy they’ll need for “cover.”

  • invalid-0

    I wonder if stores worried about theft could start only locking up smaller packages, like the 3-packs, and leaving out the 12 and 36-packs. It seems like it would be a lot harder to slip one of those in your pocket or into a bag, and then if someone only wanted a locked 3-pack, they could ask for assistance for those smaller packs.

  • carrilte

    Imagine this~ A real parent, doing their real job monitoring the behavior of their child on a date that might lead to sex. Imagine parents, knowing the parents of the boy or girl their child is dating and helping their kids together, to be held accountable for their actions. Imagine helping their teenage kids to partake in group activies that might hinder such behavior, imagine kids being kids again and parents actually wanting to be parents instead of part time babysitters. Imagine….Just Imagine.


    P.S. and yes…I am ranting, I will be the first to admit.

  • invalid-0

    Yah it’ better just to have a protection than just withdrawing your sons and daughters.. But as what i’ve heard, teenagers are not satisfied when using protections. Maybe they are just to pervert enough.

  • invalid-0

    I believe parents and school should educate the children in protective sex(they will of course always get information on their own, by friends, the TV, movies etc.)but this kind of information can many times be wrong and distorted, when my children going on a date I would feel secure knowing I have done what I could in matters of information and arguments.

  • invalid-0

    I hear of many stories of young adults who have just started dating other singles that hide everything from their parents as a result of a very strict upbringing. Parents will be very well served if they start to work with thier kids on the same level, in turn their kids will be more likely to communicate these tricky issues.

  • invalid-0

    Parents need to play an active part in every component of their childs upbringing.

  • invalid-0

    Times are changing so quickly generation by generation. Parents need to keep up to date with their childrens activities and educate themselves how their gereration is different to their childrens.